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Ausley Vs. Preston State Senate Race Among Hot Contests In Florida

one blonde woman in blue dress next to african-american woman in red shirt, both are smiling
ausleyforsenate.com and marvapreston.com
Ausley vs. Preston

State Senate races in Florida have become very expensive, and they’re meaner than ever. As the party in power, Republicans have a big money advantage, but some GOP Senate candidates may have to overcome a drag on the ticket caused by President Trump’s unpopularity.

One of the most closely-watched Senate races is in the Big Bend where Democrat Loranne Ausley of Tallahassee, a House member, faces Republican Marva Preston, a Wakulla County native and retired Miami police detective. The likely next Senate president, Republican Wilton Simpson, predicts Preston will pull off a narrow victory in a strongly Democratic district.

“Marva Preston, I believe, has a very good chance,” Simpson said. “It’s a very competitive seat. People were saying months ago it would be impossible. That’s probably not the consensus now.”

Preston is Black, and Senate District 3 spans 11 counties east and west of Tallahassee. They're mostly small and rural, including Madison, Jefferson, Liberty and Calhoun. The district is also home to most state employees and Democrats hold a big advantage in total voters. Still, it’s a conservative area and a test of how many voters are willing to cross party lines.

The new Senate Democratic leader, Gary Farmer of Lighthouse Point, said Ausley was in a real race for a while, but he predicts she will prevail.

“I think you had a combination of factors," said Farmer. "For many, many Democrats, I think, there was a time there when they did not realize that Marva Preston was a Republican, and a Trump supporter.”

A series of attack mailings by Democrats against Preston have shown her and Trump side by side. But Simpson says the outcome will be decided by the strength of the candidates -- not by the race for the White House.

“We don't look at it from the notion that we have to win statewide to win these seats. Every one of these seats are local seats," he said.

The district is among the cheapest in the state for advertising costs, which is why mail and TV ads on both sides have swamped the region’s voters for weeks.

Other Senate battlegrounds are in two open seats. One is in Seminole and Volusia counties, between Republican Jason Brodeur and Democrat Patricia Sigman, and the other is in Miami-Dade and the Keys, between Republican Ana Maria Rodriguez and Democrat Javier Fernandez. Total campaign spending in both races will be in the many millions.

Republicans have controlled the Florida Senate since 1994, the same year that a Democrat last won the governor’s office – Lawton Chiles.

Steve Bousquet has covered state government and politics for three decades at the Sun Sentinel, Tampa Bay Times and Miami Herald. He was the Times' Tallahassee bureau chief from 2005 to 2018 and has also covered city and county politics in Broward County. He has a master's degree in U.S. history from Florida State.